(ATR) The heads of state of the Olympics Big Three – U.S. , Russia and China --will make an impact in 2017, each in distinctive manner.
Vladimir Putin (r) and Thomas Bach (Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin will be a powerful influence on the reforms and changes that are needed to restore Russia’s standing in Olympic sport. While he has rejected accusations that the doping crisis faced by the country is the result of state-directed orders, Putin, alone in Russia, has the authority to make sure the problems are fixed.
Whether the changes are rapid enough for Russians to compete in August at the IAAF Athletics World Championships in London will depend on the support of the Russian President. To compete in London, not only must Russia demonstrate the structural reforms within months, Russia needs to win the political support of the IAAF to drop the ban for its athletes that began with Rio 2016.
The complicated doping saga in Russia will take a new turn in 2017 as the IOC and international federations consider the eligibility of Russians at the 2018 Winter Olympics in the wake of the second report of WADA investigator Richard McLaren.
Russian Winter Olympians could be facing disciplinary hearings over manipulated samples as a result of the report. Medals could be stripped, and with them Russia’s number-one medal standing in Sochi. It’s a blow Putin cannot ignore.
Russia’s eligibility as host for international sports events is another humiliation Putin is unlikely to stomach for long. The IOC edict against holding events in Russia meant the sudden move of the bobsleigh world champs set for Sochi to Germany.
So far, the 2018 World Cup is not entwined in the doping crisis, but organizers are said to be having some venue challenges. With Russian prestige and reputation on the line, Vladimir Putin seems unlikely to tolerate anything less than the best in 2018.
Key figures in the Russian drama also include deputy prime minister Vitaly Mutko, a FIFA council member, Russian Olympic Committee president and IOC member Alexander Zhukov, Vitaly Smirnov, chair of Russia’s doping reform panel and Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the 2018 World Cup organizing committee.
U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump (Getty Images)
Donald Trump, who takes office January 21, will wield his Olympic influence over the Los Angeles campaign for the 2024 Olympics. While LA organizers and political leaders say Trump is behind the LA bid, the president-elect has yet to publicly comment, meaning no tweets so far.
It’s easy to imagine Trump tweeting away about the virtues of Los Angeles and why the U.S. will deliver a great Olympics. It’s also easy to imagine a protocol-busting Trump tweeting without regard to IOC rules, which could be refreshing if not disconcerting to the LA bid team.
Trump policies away from sport, such as Muslim-specific immigration rules may work against international support for the U.S. Olympic bid. Trump’s relationship with Putin will certainly color how the world perceives the U.S.
Regardless, a 20-minute phone call in November from Trump to IOC President Thomas Bach apparently went well and served as an ice breaker for future dealings between the two leaders.
So far no member of the Trump team has a direct connection to the Olympics like Mitt Romney, passed over as Secretary of State. Steve Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary designate, is well-connected to Los Angeles 2024 CEO Gene Sykes, both Goldman Sachs veterans.
For heads of state appearing in Lima at the IOC Session in September where the 2024 host will be chosen, Trump would be expected to draw the most attention. France will have a newly elected president while Prime Minister Viktor Orban will represent Hungary. Remember that Trump is critical of Barack Obama for traveling to the 2009 IOC Session in Copenhagen to unsuccessfully campaign for Chicago 2016. Trump may not bother with Lima if he believes Los Angeles would lose.
China's President Xi Jinping (Getty Images)
Chinese President Xi Jinping is intent on using sport to advance the country. He views sport as part of the so-called “China Dream” of improvements for the country. Internationally, he regards sport as “soft power” to be used to curry influence for China.
With the preparation comes investment in facilities which Xi has projected will lead to 300 million Chinese practicing winter sports. The Chinese government is projecting a domestic sport industry worth 850 million a year by 2025.
Happening now: the preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, which will make Beijing the first city to host Summer and Winter Games. The unexpected victory by Beijing for 2022 means China will need to hasten its preparation, not just for venues, but with the sports expertise that's needed to host the Games. Air pollution was a worry in the lead up to the 2008 Summer Olympics but the bad air is worst during the winter. Xi's leadership at the top is needed to tackle these and other 2022 issues in 2017.
Xi will work with new president of the Chinese Olympic Committee Gou Zhongwen, who is also the head of the General Administration for Sport. China has three IOC members to help with connections to the Olympic movement: senior member Zaiqing Yu, speedskater Yang Yang is an Athlete’s Commission member and Lingwei Li, elected in 2012. She’s a former executive with the 2008 Olympics and has been a leader for badminton at national and international levels.
On the football pitch, Xi is keen on helping the sport develop in China, though the quality of the national teams is still short of contending for the World Cup. A Chinese bid to host the FIFA championships is inevitable, but will come after Xi’s tenure ends.
Written by Ed Hula.
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